As “The Godfather” taught us, family is everything, even if you are a cold-blooded killer. Such is the story of Richard Kuklinski, a real-life contract killer and family man played by Michael Shannon in “The Iceman.”
Based on “The Iceman: The True Story of a Cold-Blooded Killer” by crime writer Anthony Bruno the movie begins on Kuklinski’s first date with his wife to be Deborah (Winona Ryder). He’s quiet and reserved, but charming and she is won over by his charisma. They marry, have kids and lead a normal life. At least at home. Deborah had no idea her mild mannered husband was an expert assassin, who paid for the kid’s private school and her jewels by slicing throats, shooting and choking the enemies of his boss Roy DeMeo (Ray Liotta).
Kuklinski was dubbed the Iceman for two reasons. When he was arrested police found a stash of bodies he had frozen to obscure time of death and because of his icy demeanor. It’s a role Shannon was born to play. From certain angles he looks like an everyman, the kind of guy who goes home at night to his wife and two kids. From other angles he’s menacing, the kind of guy you don’t want to meet in a dark alley.
Shannon is cooler than Mr. Freeze as the title character in “The Iceman,” and he’s joined by Chris Evans in a career making performance as a ice cream truck driving killer, Liotta in mobster mode—between Shannon and Liotta it’s a showdown of the steely stares—the welcome return of Wynonna Ryder and David Schwimmer playing against type as a slimy mafia enforcer.
The performances are all top notch. Unfortunately the movie is content to skim the surface of the motivation for Kuklinski’s murderous rage. It’s suggested his father beat him and, like many serial killers, that he tortured small animals as a child, but the gab between family man and killer is wide and left mostly unexplored.
“The Iceman” is an average crime drama elevated by good acting, particularly Shannon’s chilling lead performance.